A Guide to the Benefits of Gardening for the Elderly

Over 55s are the largest group of gardeners in the United States, and the vast majority of these green-fingered homeowners use their allotted plots to grow food. Following the events of 2020 and the shortages and panic it created, the number of food-producing gardeners is increasing, and their importance is becoming more evident.

How Much Food Can a Garden Produce?

One of the first things you learn when you start gardening is that a lot can be done with a relatively small space. A single potato plant can produce around 10 potatoes, and if you’re lucky enough to have a fully grown apple or orange tree, it can produce 500 pieces a year.

It has been estimated that the average person needs a plot of 4,000 square feet to feed themselves for the year, but your garden is there to supplement your diet, not cater to every calorie.

The average vegetable plot in the United States produces between $650 and $750 worth of crops a year, at a material cost of around $200 to $250. The more experienced you are and the more crops you produce, the lower these costs will become, as you’ll already have most of the supplies you need.

To increase your output, look for plants that have a high yield and produce crops that will actually be eaten by yourself and your family. Winter squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and even lettuce are great options for keeping your fridge stocked year-round. Root vegetables are good options as well, as they are calorie-dense and often require minimal effort.

The Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

Gardening offers numerous benefits, both physical and psychological. These include:

Fresh Produce

If you’re using your garden to grow your own produce, you could have a bountiful harvest waiting for you every season. You’ll spend less money at the grocery store and enjoy the freshest seasonal food all year long.

Many seniors struggle to eat a healthy balanced diet. They don’t visit the grocery store as often as they would like and often resort to pre-packed food and frozen meals. Having a garden of goods is the perfect excuse to eat healthily.

Sense of Satisfaction

You can’t beat the sense of satisfaction you feel when you harvest your very first vegetable crop, impress your guests with fresh fruits at a dinner party, or watch your flower bed come into bloom.

You’ve toiled for months to create something beautiful and at the end of that toil, you can reap the benefits. This satisfaction is why so many seniors become obsessed with their gardens and turn from occasional hobbyists into full-on green-fingered fanatics. 

Lots of Vitamin D

You need sunlight to produce vitamin D, and if you spend a lot of time indoors, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough. 

Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, which means it plays an indirect role in keeping your bones and teeth strong. It may also help to boost your immune system and reduce your risk factors for a host of chronic diseases.

A Stronger Mind

Several studies have noted that seniors who spend a lot of time gardening are significantly less likely to develop dementia. It helps to focus the mind and is a great excuse to get out in the sunshine and do a little exercise.

Many seniors get stuck in a rut and spend most of their time confined to a chair or bed, leaving very little time for exercise. They get up when they need to, such as when they use the toilet, visit friends, or go to the grocery store, but such instances are rare. By adopting a habit like gardening, they have something to keep them busy every day.

Plenty of Exercise

Seniors need to get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week. It helps to boost their lifespan, keeps their mind and body strong, and reduces the risk of many chronic diseases. 

If you’re busy in the garden every day, you’ll get all of the exercise that you need. It may feel like you’re not doing much, but all that walking, weeding, planting, and harvesting takes its toll.

Reduced Depression

Loneliness is one of the biggest problems for seniors. They lose their loved ones, find themselves alone, and struggle to make new friends. It can increase their mortality risk, as has been connected to a host of psychological and physical ailments.

Gardening is a great way for combatting loneliness. Not only can you chat with neighbors, but there are many community gardening projects while you can volunteer and meet new people. 

Alternatively, join local classes and online communities connected to this hobby.

How to Garden Safely as a Senior

To make sure you’re fully prepared for all that digging, planting, and preparing, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Protect Your Skin: Skin becomes thin and fragile as you age. It’s more prone to cuts, bruises, and sunburn, so make sure you wear gloves, cover up, and use sunscreen.
  • Weakness in the Legs: As you age, you lose the ability to stand or squat for long periods of time and can damage your knees if you kneel down on the ground. Fortunately, there are garden kneelers designed specifically for this purpose. They help to support your weight and allow you to work for longer periods of time.
  • Stay Warm and Dry: Your body becomes more susceptible to extreme temperatures over time. The sun does more damage to your skin, and the cold may leave you sore and stiff. Cover up and try to stay warm and dry in the winter and cool in the summer.
  • Support: Use canes or walkers to get around the garden. Even if you feel stable when you first attend to your plot, this may change as you tire. Walking supports take some of the burdens away and reduce the risk of falls.
  • Vision Problems: Limited vision is very common in seniors and can worsen with age and with the development of conditions like cataracts. These disorders may lead to trips, falls, and bumps, so make sure you get your eyes tested and take things easy if you can’t see properly.